May 20, 2014

Historical context of The Speaker, to screen at ALA, and now also on the web

ALA has announced that there will be a screening and discussion of the controversial 1977 film, The Speaker, produced by ALA to educate people about intellectual freedom. ALA has now also made the film available on the web (details at the above link). The film was perceived by many to advocate an unacceptable tolerance of racism, and the firestorm that engulfed ALA at the time was severe. I think the event in Las Vegas stands a chance of being very interesting, but would be helped by sharing a bit of the context surrounding the film’s original release. To that end, I am copying here a passage from Ken Kister’s excellent biography of Eric Moon, published by McFarland in 2002 (a book very much worth buying)…

The Speaker: Secret Project

Unfortunately for [Eric] Moon, these questions [of a National Information Policy] were not uppermost in the minds of many ALA members in Detroit, nor would they be at anytime during his presidency. Instead, beginning in June 1977 and continuing well into 1978 the attention of most members was riveted on a much more emotional – and inflammatory – concern: what to do about an ALA-sponsored film called The Speaker, which, shades of the 1960s, again brought the association face to face with the sickening smirch of racism? Moon was nonplussed. The last thing he wanted was a great commotion diverting attention from his information policy initiative, which would be difficult enough to achieve in the best of circumstances. Yet neither he nor anyone else in the association had the power to quell The Speaker controversy once it raged out of control. Like a virulent disease, animus created by the film infected and overwhelmed the association in 1977 and 1978, and national information policy, never a crowd pleaser, got lost among all the angry words and hurt feelings.

Prior to the Detroit conference, the large majority of rank-and-file ALA members knew little or nothing about The Speaker, though several items in the library press, that spring, notably a John Berry editorial, “A Whimper for Freedom,” in the June 1, 1977, issue of LJ [Library Journal], warned that the film had problems and could be trouble. In addition, some insiders, including members of the Executive Board, had viewed the film at private screenings in April and May, and there had been a festive “premiere” in California in mid-May for the cast, production crew, and invited guests. Once in Detroit, however, everyone had an opportunity to see The Speaker and learn the basic facts.

Subtitled A Film About Freedom, the 42-minute 16mm color production was completed in April 1977 and ALA, the copyright holder, began processing 150 advance orders in the middle of June, just days before the opening of the Detroit conference. The ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee sponsored the film, with Judith Krug, director of the association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, credited as executive producer. Lee R. Bobker, president of Vision Associates, the New York production company that made the film, was producer-director. Bobker also coauthored the script (originally called Days in the Death of Freedom) with Barbara Eisberg.

From the outset The Speaker project was envisioned as an exploration of the First Amendment in contemporary American society. The film’s plot, originally suggested by Archibald Cox (of noble Watergate fame), involves a fictionalized account of real-life efforts to prevent Dr. William Shockley, a Nobel Prize laureate in physics, from publicly speaking about his theories on race and specifically his belief that black people are genetically inferior to whites. The fact that Shockley had been denied the right to speak at Harvard University and other college campuses in the early 1970s disturbed Cox and like-minded academics concerned about the future of free speech in America. In the film, a high school current events club invites a Shockley-like character (called Dr. Boyd) to discuss his ideas about race at a school assembly, but others at the school and in the local community are outraged and pressure the club and its adviser, history teacher Victoria Dunn (played by acclaimed actress Mildred Dunnock), to rescind the invitation. Dunn and the club refuse, but in the end the speaker, who is never actually seen or heard in the film, is banned the the school board. The Speaker drew on the school’s student body and faculty for its interracial cast.

How did a film with such a story line come to be associated with ALA, especially since the plot has nothing directly to do with libraries? How did it happen that an organization riven by excruciating racial conflict just a dozen years before came to puts its imprimatur on a project built around the premise of black inferiority? Why did the controversy caused by the film dominate ALA business for practically an entire year, during which time Moon’s information policy proposal was wiped off the association’s radar screen? How did all of this happen? Who was responsible? …

To find the answer you’ll have to read the next 20 pages in the (7″ by 10″ format) book (available on Amazon).

While we’re on the topic of books from McFarland, I have two others on my shelves that have sections devoted to The Speaker and the controversy surrounding it: A Passage for Dissent: The Best of Sipapu, 1970-1988, by Noel Peattie, published in 1989, and Zoia! Memoirs of Zoia Horn, Battler for the People’s Right to Know, published in 1995. These books were part of the inspiration for our own contribution, the Library Juice Press Handbook of Intellectual Freedom: Concepts, Cases, and Theories, published this year. If this topic is interesting to you then you might want to take a look at it.

April 15, 2014

Excerpt from Svetlana Mintcheva’s chapter on art censorship

Here is an excerpt from Svetlana Mintcheva’s chapter in The Library Juice Press Handbook of Intellectual Freedom, which is titled, “Art Censorship and Intellectual Freedom.” It’s just an excerpt, but it’s very interesting nonetheless. Svetlana Mintcheva is the Director of Programs at the National Coalition Against Censorship.

April 10, 2014

The Library Juice Press Handbook of Intellectual Freedom: Concepts, Cases, and Theories

The Library Juice Press Handbook of Intellectual Freedom: Concepts, Cases, and Theories

Editors: Mark Alfino and Laura Koltutsky
Price: $50.00
Published: April 2014
ISBN: 978-1-936117-57-4

Available from

The existing reference literature on intellectual freedom tends to focus on topics such as government censorship of books, the internet, and political speech. This has also been the focus of intellectual freedom scholars among professional librarians in the United States and Canada. There has been a shift in recent years, and intellectual freedom is now being looked at from a wider range of theoretical perspectives and in connection with a wider range of cultural topics. The Handbook of Intellectual Freedom is a reference work that captures this recent growth in the field. It provides a grounding in the philosophical, historical, and legal development of the concept of intellectual freedom by providing current thinking on a wide range of intellectual freedom concepts, cases, and controversies.

21 invited articles focus on topics including threats to intellectual freedom, academic freedom, the arts, the Internet, censorship along with connections to contemporary social issues and institutions, and historical and cultural theories.

The members of the Editorial Board for the work are: Elizabeth Buchanan (School of Information Studies, UW Milwaukee), Robert Hauptman (Editor of the Journal of Information Ethics), Jim Kuhn (Head of Cataloging at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC), Mary Minow (Attorney specializing in Library Law), Laura Quilter (Attorney, Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic, University of California at Berkeley), Tara Robertson (British Columbia Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee), Toni Samek (School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta), Alvin Schrader (University of Alberta Libraries), Siva Vaidhyanathan (Law School at University of Virginia).

Mark Alfino, Professor of Philosophy at Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA
Laura Koltutsky, Associate Librarian at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Table of Contents


Part One: Theories from the Humanities and Politics

1. Philosophies of Intellectual Freedom, Mark Alfino
2. Gramsci, Hegemony, and Intellectual Freedom, Douglas Raber
3. Habermas and Intellectual Freedom: Three Paths, John Buschman
4. Feminism and Intellectual Freedom, Lauren Pressley
5. Neoliberalism and Intellectual Freedom, Laura Koltutsky

Part Two: Media, Access, and Property

6. Journalism for Justice: Discussing the alternative media and intellectual freedom, Susan Forde
7. Intellectual Property and Intellectual Freedom, Robert Tiessen
8. The Internet and Intellectual Freedom, Elizabeth A. Buchanan
9. The Open Access Movement, Olivier Charbonneau

Part Three: Laws, Rights, and International Intellectual Freedom

10. Intellectual Freedom within the International Human Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion, Leonard Hammer
11. Hate Speech: Legal and Philosophical Aspects, Tomas A. Lipinski and Kathrine Henderson
12. Intellectual Freedom and U.S. Government Secrecy, Susan Maret
13. Intellectual Freedom and Privacy, Neil Richards and Joanna Cornwell
14. Defamation and Intellectual Freedom, Dale Herbeck

Part Four: The Arts, Social, Cultural, and Professional Life

15. Religion and Intellectual Freedom, Emily Knox
16. Art Censorship and Intellectual Freedom, Svetlana Mintcheva
17. Sex and Intellectual Freedom, Robert P. Holley
18. Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression, James V. Carmichael
19. Libraries and Intellectual Freedom, Loretta Gaffney
20. Journalism and Intellectual Freedom, Joe Cutbirth
21. Academic Freedom, Mark Alfino


January 8, 2014

Edward Snowden for James Madison Freedom Award

The American Library Association has given the James Madison Award annually since 1986, “to honor individuals or groups who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know.”

It is hard to think of anyone as deserving of this year’s award as Edward Snowden. Champions of the public’s right to know like Snowden do not come along very often. But the government has been so aggressive in painting Snowden as a criminal that ALA’s leadership must be worried that giving the award to him would mean taking a political risk.

Edward Snowden has been nominated for the award. I think it is realistic to hope that ALA will give the award to Edward Snowden, especially after the New York Times’ editorial board went on record supporting him as a whistle-blower at the start of the year.

There are many people who will be disappointed if the award does not go to Snowden this year. He has made great sacrifices in the public interest and deserves to be recognized for it.

November 8, 2013

Libraries and the Alternative Press (Against the Grain Podcast)

An Against the Grain Podcast with Alycia Sellie, published 11/05/2013

Libraries and the Alternative Press

Unique and vital perspectives are and have been offered up by underground newspapers, zines, and other radical publications. But alternative materials are for the most part not carried by libraries. Alycia Sellie comments on the value of alternative publications and describes behind-the-scenes efforts, by her and other activist librarians, to get them into library collections.

Libraries and the Alternative Press was a big priority topic for Library Juice in years past, and an activity of mine within ALA/SRRT’s Alternative Media Task Force, formerly the Alternatives in Print Task Force. It is now inactive, but could be revived if anyone wants to take it on. Contact someone in SRRT if you feel inspired to do that.

August 31, 2013

Voltaire’s Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet: A New Translation

Voltaire’s Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet:
A New Translation

Author: Voltaire
Translation and Introduction: Hanna Burton
Preface: Malise Ruthven
Price: $15.00
ISBN: 978-1-936117-81-9
Published: September 2013
Printed on acid-free paper.

Voltaire’s play Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet was controversial in its own day, and has stirred up controversy in recent decades as attempts to mount stage productions have been met with protests. Originally intended as an oblique criticism of the Catholic Church and religious fanaticism in general (as Voltaire understood it), the play stands today as an entertaining melodrama marked by gleeful irreverance and historical imagination. This new prose translation into English by Hanna Burton brings the text to modern English-speaking audiences. The translator’s extensive introduction sheds light on the history of the work and its reception by Voltaire’s contemporaries.

April 10, 2013

Daniel McGowan Forbidden From Publishing Articles Without Permission

The constitutional rights of people who are caught up in the criminal justice system are always an issue, but this is a little bit different, because the activities that got Daniel McGowan in trouble with the law were political activities in the first place. I recommend this article in the Village Voice to the ALA IF community: Daniel McGowan Forbidden From Publishing Articles Without Permission. In short, McGowan was serving the end of a prison term in a sort of halfway house (on an eco-terrorism charge), when he was detained and imprisoned again in an experimental new facility called a “Communications Management Unit,” after publishing an article critical of the authorities he has been dealing with. A Freedom of Information Act request uncovered memos that show he was indeed incarcerated to silence him, and he is pursuing a lawsuit that questions the constitutionality of these CMUs. I think this is worthy of attention from the Freedom to Read Foundation, don’t you?

March 20, 2013

Whistleblowers, Intellectual Freedom, and Librarians

On February 28, 2013, Bradley Manning read a 35-page statement at a courthouse in Fort Meade, in which he detailed how and why he released certain information to the public. The redacted transcript reveals several intellectual freedom issues that have been central to some recent discussions at American Library Association meetings. Among these issues are recurring concerns about the national security vs. the public’s right to know debate and the over-classification of government information, both of which reinforce government secrecy.

When Manning discussed the release of diplomatic cables, he stated “the world would be a better place if states would avoid making secret pacts and deals with and against each other. I thought these cables were a prime example of a need for more open diplomacy.” Even the Obama Administration agrees that a more open government would be beneficial and joined the Open Government Partnership with several other countries devoted to making governments more transparent and accountable. In theUnited States’ Open Government Partnership action plan whistleblower protection and declassification of government records are listed as working goals, among many others. In addition, the action plan supports “accountability, which can improve performance” and refers to the famous quote from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Yet, Bradley Manning’s court case, along with several other instances of whistleblower persecution, point toward an opposite reality. In fact, the Obama Administration is taking the unprecedented path of charging Manning with “aiding the enemy”, a crime punishable by death and a charge for which Manning has pleaded not guilty.

In Yochai Benkler’s post in New Republic titled “The Dangerous Logic of the Bradley Manning Case,” he explains that “If Bradley Manning is convicted of aiding the enemy, the introduction of a capital offense into the mix would dramatically elevate the threat to whistleblowers. The consequences for the ability of the press to perform its critical watchdog function in the national security arena will be dire. “Perhaps Manning’s leaks of diplomatic cables along with other information on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has been too much “sunlight”, or rather, not the kind of sunlight the Open Government program envisioned. This is where we see a great clash between the Public’s right to know and concerns for national security.

Unfortunately, invoking “national security” has often been used to limit intellectual freedom, including press freedom as outlined under the First Amendment, resulting in fleeting protections for whistleblowers who reveal injustices and abuses within organizations. A prime example is the decision by The New York Times not to publish a story in 2003 on the sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program by the C.I.A. after government officials informed the paper it would endanger “national security.” In addition, President Obama’s 2012 directive titled “Protecting Whistleblowers with Access to Classified Information” does not extend protection to whistleblowers that disclose information outside of institutional channels for example, to the press or the public. Benkler asserts that “freedom of the press is anchored in our constitution because it reflects our fundamental belief that no institution can be its own watchdog,” for even though internal accountability systems are in place, secrecy “can be-and often is-used to cover up failure, avarice, or actions that simply will not survive that best of disinfectants, sunlight.” To ensure effective accountability that eliminates injustices and corruption within our government, we need better transparency and a media devoted to its critical watchdog role.

The International Federation of Library Associations, of which the American Library Association is a member, published the “IFLA Manifesto on Transparency, Good Governance and Freedom from Corruption” which offers some inspiration for librarians who are concerned with issues of national security, press freedom and the over classification of government information. It states that: “Corruption succeeds most under conditions of secrecy and general ignorance” and that since libraries in essence contribute to “good governance by enlarging the knowledge of citizens and enriching their discussion and debates” they should extend their work to be active in the “struggle against corruption.”

Moreover, several of the core values of our profession, as expressed by the American Library Association directly relate to the importance of whistleblowers. First, the core value in support of democracy: “A democracy presupposes an informed citizenry.” Likewise, the value of social responsibility, which includes “ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society; support for efforts to help inform and educate the people of the United States on these problems and to encourage them to examine the many views on and the facts regarding each problem.” Without a doubt, government transparency is a critical problem in our society, and has been a continuous balancing act since the inception of our constitutional republic. As Sunshine Week comes to a close, we are reminded to reflect on these issues and the progress we have yet to make.

As of now, the Obama Administration has denied FOIA requests more than any time in the Administration’s history due to national security and internal deliberations. The Espionage Act, enacted in 1917, has resurfaced in the persecution of whistleblowers who inform the public of government crime. National Security Letters continue to be used as a way to infringe on individual privacies, although a federal judge just recently ruled the letters unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment. This varied landscape of political control over information should be explored by information professionals in order to be better informed of the various perspectives and events that have brought it about. As librarians, professionals dedicated to equitable access to information, we should be acutely aware of and decidedly outspoken about the current threat to the vital role that whistleblowers play in times of heightened government secrecy, that of alerting us to troubling, unethical, immoral, and/or criminal acts in our name.

December 6, 2012

All That Is Banned is Desired

This was Session 4 on Day 1 of the conference ‘All that is banned is desired’ which was held in Oslo, Norway, in October 2012.

Larissa Sansour, Visual Artist (Palestine/UK)
Nadia Plesner, Visual Artist (Denmark)
Fredrik Gertten, Film Director (Sweden)

October 1, 2012

Banned Books Week – Yeai Us? Not So Fast. Sandy Berman on Self-Censorship

Banned Books Week sometimes feels like National Library Week, in the sense that it is something that lets librarians shine a celebratory spotlight on our profession, since we are all about the freedom to read, always opposing small-minded censors. Feeling good about the heroic narrative at the core of our profession is a perk of the job.

And so is feeling good about the heroism of that symbol of librarianship the way we want it to be: Sanford Berman, activist librarian par excellence. But besides being a crusader for progressive values in the profession, Sandy Berman has also encouraged an attitude of self-criticism as a professional value. He has consistently found ways in which practicing librarians can be truer to our core values. I view that as part of the tradition of progressive librarianship that he helped found.

So, given all of that, I am happy to link to this article of his on self-censorship in libraries: “Inside Censorship.” It has appeared in different versions over the years in different places, because it is statement that it has always been important to him to reiterate. I recommend it as something to read about and think about during Banned Books Week, to counter some of the feel-goodism about librarians’ roles in combatting censorship that tends to dominate this time of year….

September 18, 2012

Political Repression and Illegal Books in Portland

Just in time for Banned Books Week, here is a bit of news that I hope comes to your attention if you are concerned with civil liberties and the freedom to read.

A couple of young people in Portland, fresh faced college students who like to say that they’re anarchists, have been arrested as part of an investigation of vandalism of a courthouse in Seattle. It doesn’t seem that they were involved, but the FBI regards anarchists not as a tribe of harmless bohemian-ish young intellectuals with a vague, semi-coherent political philosophy and taste for history, but as “criminals seeking an ideology to justify their actions” who are “not dedicated to a particular issue” (according to the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Guide). The FBI’s search warrant that ordered the raid on their house specified that they were looking for “anarchist literature”…. which seems to imply that books containing anarchist political philosophy are considered illegal by the FBI.

In my opinion, this is a matter that deserves our attention during Banned Books Week. Not to minimize the importance of protecting the rights of teens to read novels that have mature themes that some members of their communities believe they are not ready to be exposed to yet (or the importance of questions about what teens are in fact ready to be reading), but this seems to be a case of political repression based in part on what books these young idealists may own. Raising further red flags about civil liberties questions is the fact that their subpoenas have been to appear before secret grand juries where the proceedings can’t be monitored by the press.

I read about this issue at Sound and Noise.

August 5, 2012

Book Banning in Missouri

Journalism students at the University of Missouri have published a very important report on book censorship in Missouri. It makes for chilling, but necessary reading. Take a look here.

June 1, 2012

Censorship at Canadian Library Association Conference – Librarians Expelled by Security Guards for Leafletting

Take note of this outrageous situation at the Canadian Library Association conference yesterday. Librarians opposing cuts to the Canadian National Library and Archives were ejected from the conference by force for passing out leaflets. The Executive Director of CLA claimed that the library conference was “not the right venue” for such activism. Read all about it on the blog of the unionized librarians of the University of Ottawa.

May 25, 2012

Former NYPL employees silenced by non-disparagement agreement

Robin Pogrebin has an article in the New York Times from Wednesday, titled, Former Employees Feel Silenced on Library Project. They don’t just “feel” silenced though. First two paragraphs:

The New York Public Library’s plan to turn part of its flagship Fifth Avenue research center into a lending library has unleashed a torrent of commentary, with scholars, writers, artists and students signing a petition and writing articles, many of them critical. But one highly informed contingent has been notably silent: former curators, department heads and librarians.

That’s not because this group has no opinions. On the contrary, some former employees say they are eager to participate in the debate over the $300 million proposal, known as the Central Library Plan. But they say they can’t because they signed a nondisparagement agreement when they left, promising not to criticize the library in exchange for the additional pay known as severance.

April 14, 2012

Censorship through travel restriction (two links)

Two links to share about what may be a growing trend – travel restrictions as a way to stifle political speech.

A column in Salon by Glen Greenwald a few days ago talks about the Department of Homeland Security’s detention of filmmaker and journalist Laura Poitras at the U.S. border. They detained her and took possession of her camera and laptop, downloading all of the files on both. Pretty scary. Funny how we have become numb to this kind of thing. Greenwald’s column also talks about other, similar instances.

An article in Haaretz today reports that several airlines have canceled the flights of about 60% of the activists who have been planning to fly in for a protest against the building of new settlements in Palestinian territory. The article begins:

Over 60 percent of the 1,500 pro-Palestinian activists due to arrive in Israel on Sunday to take part in a fly-in protest have received notifications from airlines that their flights have been canceled, the spokesman for the “Welcome to Palestine” protest told Haaretz on Saturday.